Virginia Tech Dining Services is known for being one of the nation’s best campus dining experiences. What makes it even better is that it strives to be sustainable by sourcing its food locally, composting and offering reusable to-go containers when possible. Another big way the school could strive to help the environment is by offering more plant-based dishes.
People following a vegan diet consume no food that comes from animals, such as meat, eggs or dairy products. Vegetarian diets are followed by people who do not eat meat, but sometimes consume eggs or dairy products. About 3.5% of people in the United States identify as vegan — about 9.7 million people in the U.S. follow a vegetarian-based diet, with only one million of them leading a pure vegan lifestyle. The number of people who are excluding the use of animals for food is rising every year, and in effect, so are the number of students who are attending college.
Erika Tuttobene is a senior majoring in Russian with a minor in humanities, science and technology. She has been a vegan for over four and a half years and had to become accustomed to searching for food on campus that follows her diet.
“It is an adjustment,” Tuttobene said. “When changing your diet you have to keep in mind the reasons why you are doing it, that's what you have to remember when you are struggling with finding foods to eat or when you feel like you are being difficult when ordering.”
She wants everyone to know that it is okay to ask the workers in the dining halls if they can make accommodations in your order.
“Don’t feel guilty about making this choice, but do not become a difficult person,” Tuttobene said. “Become plant-based because you are wanting to change into better habits and because of its impact, not because you want to seem better than others.”
There are food items in the dining hall that are not vegan but can be ordered to be so by substituting items on them. Sometimes these changes can be overlooked and it is frustrating to have to ask to get it redone.
“If there is cheese on my sandwich that I can easily take off, I will and move on,” Tuttobene said. “But, if I see that someone has put milk in my coffee, I will let them know that I need it redone and that I took it out of my order for a reason. I want to know that I can eat at my dining centers with confidence.”
Tuttobene, like many other students that follow specific diets, sometimes have difficulty finding food on campus.
“I didn’t really know how to verify what was in my food. I had to familiarize myself with the resources, like the dining app online,” Tuttobene said. “Once I knew what was vegan and what wasn’t, I found it easy to make somewhat of a menu for myself. It is sometimes frustrating to eat something and then later find out that it did not follow the diet you are striving to follow. You chose to switch to this, not because you had a restriction ... don't feel like the vegan police will come get you if you mess up.”
But what dining halls are students supposed to order from if they are vegan or vegetarian? Students can use the Hokie Dining App, andTuttobene has also constructed a plant-based dining guide for Virginia Tech that shows you the food options you can choose from in every dining hall on campus. There are more options than you would think. If you want to learn more about veganism you can visit sites like The Vegan Society and FoodPrint.
If a dining hall doesn’t have a specific vegan or vegetarian option, students can customize their orders to fit their preferences.
“When staffing gets stuck at dining halls, the menu is sometimes cut as well and the least popular options, which are most often the plant-based options, are cut. For example, tofu fried rice at Origami and build your own sandwiches at ABP,” Tuttobene said. “Hokie Grill is very hard to find any vegan/vegetarian options because their salad bar has closed due to COVID. Grubhub has also made ordering food more difficult to customize. You should be able to comment under more drop down options, or they should ask if you have any allergies or restrictions.”
We have seen many changes throughout the years in the dining halls. The Hokie Dining App is an amazing resource, but hopefully we can get more of the orders — “especially the things in the Grab-n-Go,” Tuttobene suggests — labeled so that the ingredients are written. This will avoid having to look the list up on the app but will help students have an easier time getting food.